Beth Revis, author of the upcoming book Across the Universe, is running an adventure blog contest. She’s giving away an ARC (advanced reader copy) of her novel to the best adventure post. Below is a post describing my first raft trip down the Grand Canyon.
I never really felt confident in the Udisco with its flimsy rubber disintegrating before our eyes as I prayed each day that it would make it one more day down the Grand Canyon. Each rapid filled the raft with water. When I leaned down to bail, I could hear another leak bubbling in the water.
Compared to the stiff yellow Sotar that our group had rented to carry most of the gear on our 18 day trip, the Udisco looked like a limp balloon left behind at a birthday party. The other vessels, a stiff cataraft, a fourteen foot Hyside and another fourteen foot Scout, stood erect like proud graduates of charm school. The Udisco, on the other hand, sat relaxed with an attitude of slinky confidence like a nightclub swinger.
I tried to adopt the same attitude. But really, I wondered if the Udisco could make it to Diamond Creek. I imagined floating to the take-out on a wooden raft ala` Huckleberry Finn as the Udisco’s rubber sank to the bottom of the river.
But I tried to respect the Udisco and its heritage, because whenever I lost faith in the faded gray boat, another leak sprang up.
I began to make small concessions that I hoped the boat would agree to. The first night camped at the put-in, I just asked that it get through Badger, the first rapid.
As I floated away from the beach the next morning, tightening the already taut straps, checking for lose equipment and snapping the latches on the dry box, I started to hum, “I Love the Nightlife”, by Alicia Bridges.
I hadn’t planned on discoing my way down the Grand Canyon. It just sort of happened. But once I made it through that first rapid safely, I realized what I had to do. I would take the boat’s name seriously.
I learned to speak to its language, choosing a different disco tune each morning, singing and dancing to it as I rode the glassy tongue into each rapid.
For the next week and a half, I sang songs like K.C & The Sunshine Band’s, “Get Down Tonight” in Sockdolager Rapid, Sister Sledge’s, “We Are Family” during Unkar and Gloria Gaynor’s, “I Will Survive” through Hance. I was a bit surprised by the sheer number of disco tunes I could remember. And when I was stumped for the words, I just sang the chorus over and over again.
The morning we planned to run Lava Falls, I should have known something was wrong as we shoved off from the beach. In my head was Diana Ross’s “Upside Down.” I hummed the words to myself, floating beneath the 2,000 foot cliffs lining the river. “Boy, you turn me, inside out. And round and round.”
I tried to banish the song from my mind. I wanted to make it through Lava right side up. Yet the disco gods had gotten me this far. Perhaps it was time to take matters into my own hands. Free will, I chanted to myself. Besides, there must be some kind of crossed wires in the connection. This was Lava. Certainly the Udisco’s patrons would not intentionally bring on that kind of energy.
I changed the song and began singing the BeeGee’s “Staying Alive.” This seemed more appropriate for the day ahead of us, even though I had used it through Crystal Rapid ten days earlier. But I imagined that by now I could pick and choose from the remaining songs in my repertoire. I convinced myself of the thin line between free will and divine intervention. Certainly today was not a day for Diana Ross. She would surely understand.
Anvil Rock, the core of the ancient volcano that had left the curving, black veins of lava we had seen the past few days, signals the approach of Lava Falls. Many boaters touch the Rock for safe passage through the rapid ahead. We circled it, touching each side, hoping for as much luck as we could glean. Others had left souvenirs, a wild-haired Barbie doll, a pooka shell necklace, a bottle of beer. I understood these gifts of supplication, and as we floated away, I wished I had a vinyl BeeGees album or maybe a vintage Donna Summer to leave behind.
I felt a bit uneasy, as if at the whim of some gold-chained Poseidon of the river. I worried that my brazen assumption to change the day’s song would offend these swinging deities. “Upside down, you’re turning me, you’re giving love instinctively,” Diana Ross crooned in my head. She was back, and she demanded compensation. “Round and round you’re turning me,” I let the words slip out, thinking that if I gave her her due now, I could slip in the BeeGees just above the rapid.
The kayaks went first and positioned themselves with throw ropes below the rapid. Joe and Brenda, twin captains of the perky fourteen foot Hyside went first. The Udisco was to follow them. I rubbed my sweaty hands on my shorts. Diana Ross twittered in my head, but I quickly banished her and focused on staying alive. The BeeGees took center stage. As I saw the blue Hyside slide across the horizon line, I was surprised to see the underside of the raft. A yellow oar shaft shot straight out of the froth. I stood up to get a better view. The raft slid out of the bottom of the rapid, followed by one swimmer.
The Udisco shoved off into the melee. I teetered between Diana and the BeeGees, not committing to either song. What came out was a sort of compromise, “staying alive upside down.” As I skirted the top ledge on the left, I looked into the maw of the beast that had swallowed Brenda, gnashing its teeth in triumph.
Once past that obstacle I concentrated on keeping my weight forward, prepared to high-side if I smashed into the boulder on the right. All the water in the Colorado seemed to slam into that dark mass, curling around its flanks. A twenty foot wall of water suddenly appeared in front of me, and I pointed my body into the curl, holding tightly to the rope in my hands. The wave crashed into me, nearly filling the boat. But it was this weight which kept me from flipping when the next wave hit us squarely on our right side.
I let go to bail and came to rest in a small eddy on the left.
When we assembled at the first sunny beach to dry out and warm up, I sat next to Brenda, offering her a thermos of hot tea. I should have trusted Diana’s song. It would have been like an actor’s invitation to “break a leg.” By inviting disaster to look you squarely in the eyes, you can admonish it. Hadn’t this been the credo of the disco era? Don’t think–just feel? Diana had been trying to tell me something. Take whatever song you feel in your heart and belt it out.
Like Sylvester sang, “you make me feel mighty real”.